Indonesia’s waria (people who perform transgender femininity) claim that something remarkable happened in Jakarta in 1968: they moved from obscurity to hyper-visibility. Marshalling the tools of feminine expertise — the latest glamorous styles of make-up, hair and fashion — they dazzled admiring audiences across the archipelago in that year and the decades that followed. Based on ethnographic and historical research about waria, this seminar addresses how the appearance of and meanings attributed to trans- femininity in Indonesia have been rendered ambiguous by the very visibility that has enabled their partial acceptance.
Current analyses of transgender femininity in Southeast Asia tend to articulate its social meaning in relation to tradition and modernity mapped onto past and present as stable historical reference points. By contrast, waria recall their emergence within historical time as making visible something that was always present (terlihat, nampak). That is, waria understand themselves to be located within historical processes which lie at the intersection of processes of continuity and change. In doing so, they mediate enduring social concerns in Indonesia as to the contradictory meanings of feminine visibility in the public sphere; both as a key way to naturalize social difference, as equally as it might mask it from view.
Benjamin Hegarty is a McKenzie Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology at the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne. His first book manuscript, Making Visible: Expertise and Gendered Appearances in Postcolonial Indonesia, examines how gender and sexuality are integral to processes of historical transformation. His second project is an ethnographic study of queer activism in Indonesia as a lens on sexual minority rights in a post-truth political era. His research appears in Transgender Studies Quarterly, the Journal of the History of Sexuality and Medicine Anthropology Theory. He was awarded the Australian Anthropological Society Ph.D. Thesis Prize and an Australian National University Gender Institute Prize in 2018, and an Endeavour Postdoctoral Fellowship for research at the University of California, Irvine in 2019.
“Queen of Miss Imitation Girls” Competition, Jakarta, 1969. Digitized by Perpustakaan Nasional, Jakarta.
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